It’s rare to drive past the entrance to Spanish Oaks Golf Club and not marvel at how much, and in how many ways, Austin has developed in the past two decades. The club, its acclaimed 18-hole Bobby Weed-designed golf course and surrounding luxury residential community opened in 2001, just before the droves of retail, dining other businesses transformed the rugged Hill Country– on all sides Highway 71 near RR 620 and the western endpoint of Bee Cave Road– into one of Texas’ most flourishing enclaves.
I’m often hit with mini-waves of nostalgia as I harken back to laughter-packed lunches at long-gone country-cooking haven Barbara Ellen’s and epic concerts at The Backyard in the 90s and early 2000s (the venue has since moved a mile or two west, down Highway 71). From shows by Dwight Yoakum to the Gypsy Kings and Brian Wilson and Ziggy Marley to equally-great ones that somehow escape the recesses of my blissfully-aging brain, one constant remains. That location, now home to the flourishing Spanish Oaks community, is still one of the best places to admire the stars over the brawny Central Texas hilltops.
Today, one can’t help but chuckle remembering how this now-prime (ideal, in many respects) locale was considered “way out of town” when the property first opened. From the front gates of Spanish Oaks, it’s an easy trip into Austin down Southwest Parkway (especially on weekends and evenings), a short drive to Lake Travis and a straight shot into the Highland Lakes region of the Hill Country. It can be argued, but it’s hard to imagine a better situated residential community in greater Austin.
Spanish Oaks founder and chairman Daniel Porter’s vision was to create a private golf course that would take advantage of the exceptional views and create thrilling shot values from the sweeping topography while employing the highest standards of environmental sensitivity. Further, the course was to be surrounded by a low-density residential development, “leaving much of the land preserved in a natural state.” Sorry for the spoiler, but today you can see that Porter and his team, after high times and rocky times, has realized that vision. Spanish Oaks was recently reported as having the Austin area’s highest median home prices.
Course architect Weed’s routing honored the existing topography and brought back native vegetation that erosion had washed away over time. The entire property is irrigated with reclaimed water. “With a combination of the routing and step-riser topography, we basically routed and laid the golf course over the existing topography. This way, the golf course just rumbles and tumbles over the existing terrain and makes it feel like it’s always been there,” Weed said.
The 7,155-yard, par-71 design takes full advantage of the quintessential Hill Country terrain. Exhilarating elevation shifts, babbling natural creeks, the contrast between manicured fairways and scrubby native grasses and mature hardwoods define a memorable routing.
The round opens pleasingly with a 575-yard, three-shot par 5. Two strong pops, favoring the left and then the right, set up a fun uphill approach to a two-tiered green. The lower tier, on the left side, is the easier option but demands distance control. Shots to an upper-tier will give you a good idea how well your warm up your short-iron and wedge game on Spanish Oaks’ state-of-the-art and expansive practice area.
The ensuing holes climb through the Hill Country and test every club in the bag. Interestingly, it’s the 176-yard par-three third hole (not #9) that brings you back to the clubhouse, which should tell you that following the best routing took priority over fitting the course into design tropes or forced directions. The course fits the land and truly is an outstanding walk in nature. Literally. Spanish Oaks has a terrific team of caddies and forecaddies who know every step of the course.
On most golf courses, the smart miss is often short of the green, obviously away from sand traps and nearby native grasses. That’s the case at Spanish Oaks, but with a twist. The day I played the course, I missed MANY greens just short of the putting surface and on the tightly-mown aprons surrounding the lush greens. Almost invariably, our forecaddie insisted I putt them in from there. Stubborn in my craftiness (honed by a nerdy level of backyard and on-course practice) on a 10- to 40-yard pitches with lob wedge, I (hopefully, politely) declined his advice on the first couple of tries. Man, those lies are extremely tight. Augusta tight. Matt Kuchar (allegedly) when the check hits the table at Mastro’s tight. After some “almost-perfectly-clean” nips of the turf that traveled only halfway to the hole, I learned to trust the Texas wedge (and a good forecaddie) on these delicately manicured surrounds.
The short par-4 sixth hole stretches to just 318 yards from the tips presents a classic risk-reward scenario, with ample room down the left side and a treacherously-treed fall-off right of the fairway. Here you’ll find another small, but outstanding green complex. Seven, an uphill 189-yard par 3, starts a stretch of holes with really exciting approaches. This hole has great character and a location all to itself. It’s another, but not the last, fun-but-challenging par 3 at Spanish Oaks.
The eighth hole brings us to another excellent par five. With a yardage of 562 and fairly-sharp dogleg on the last 125 yards, or so, of the approach over a creek, most will attack this brilliant hole as a three-shotter. The shots into this green are a blast and it’s fun just to spend time on the green, taking in the pleasing natural setting.
The round at Spanish Oaks builds to an engaging, beautiful final stretch of holes that can either make or break a scorecard. You immediately see what a tremendous tournament course Weed has created. The Club hosted the 2013 and 2019 Trans-Miss Golf Association Four-Ball Championship and 2016 Texas Mid-Amateur.
The par-three 14th is a beautiful hole with a cascading water hazard framing the left side. It’s another chance to appreciate the intelligence and simplicity of this routing that plays through terrain that’s anything but simple. At 173 yards from the tips, and just 139 yards from the next set of tees, it pays to be dialed in and to be wary of front-left pin placements. Admittedly, the par three left a strong impression, so I’d be remiss in not mentioning, the 234-yard 16th that requires a king- or queen-sized smack off the tee to set up a reasonable putt. I recall needing to pull out driver into the wind the first time I played the course. It was daunting while bringing back fond memories of the lengthy 11th hole at Houston’s Memorial Park Golf Course and the famed 16th at Oakmont Country Club.
The 17th is one of the course’s most fun and picturesque holes. With a hazard down the left side that gets more scenic as you get nearer the green, you’re beckoned to hit toward a fairway bunker on the right or challenge the left. A smart second shot toward the middle-right sets up a fun approach on another great dogleg left hole. The water hazards frames the left and back sides of the green, setting up a finish that’s as fun as it is serene. Speaking of finishes, the long par-4 18th is a demanding close hole that requires a solid tee shot that threads a needle between fairway bunkers right and trees left. A pond left of the green and bunkers on both sides await wayward approaches. It’s a fitting last chapter to a satisfying round.
After your round, you’ll find an accommodating and friendly staff and world-class food in an intimate clubhouse that offers pleasing indoor and outdoor dining, a private dining room, bar and golf shop. Golf amenities include extensive practice grounds, a short game area, putting green, comfort stations and a beautiful pavilion serving food and beverages at the midpoint of the course. You don’t have to be all that nosy to notice some recognizable surnames on the lockers. Tennis legend Andy Roddick has proudly called the club home along with pros like Nick Watney, Andrew Landry, Sergio Garcia and Beau Hossler.
Spanish Oaks is also known for having one of the finest practice areas in the state and top-level instruction. Director of Instruction Christy Longfield was recently name to Golf Digest’s coveted “Best Teachers By State” list and a host of talented players use Longfield and the club’s instruction staff to stay finely-tuned. Spanish Oaks is currently ranked the #7 golf course in the state by Golf Digest and #3 by Golfweek. If and when you get the chance, jump on the opportunity to see where it ranks in your opinion.
To learn more about, the course, club, community and lifestyle at Spanish Oaks, visit www.spanishoaksgc.com.
By Marc Hall